Review: NewTek TriCaster
NewTek has put together an incredibly powerful little package at an almost unbelievable price point. The live switching alone is probably worth the price of admission, but when you throw in video capture and editing, you’ve got an incredibly useful tool at your disposal.
All of the settings are intuitive and obvious. Camera setup, for example, allows the user to choose which input is being used for each camera, and provides individual brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation controls for each camera. The VCR & Picture tab lets you cue up video clips and still images to mix into your broadcast. The Overlay section lets you manage your overlays, so adding graphics or lower-third titles to your production is a snap. There also is a tab for setting up a colored background, another for chromakey options, one for controlling the streaming and local archiving settings, and finally a tab where you can control the built-in scan conversion the TriCaster offers.
The scan conversion feature deserves special mention. The TriCaster ships with a small application called iVGA that enables the unit to use any computer on your local network as a VGA source during a broadcast. This means PowerPoint slides, spreadsheets, or anything else you want to showcase are only a click away. Not only that, but the VGA signal can be sent directly to the DVI output on the back of the TriCaster, bypassing the scan conversion. This means you get a scan-converted version mixed into your video production, and a crisp and clear version sent to your projection system. Nice!
This is only one of a number of well-thought-out features the TriCaster includes. For example, the audio mixing section provides solo and mute buttons for each input, and additionally includes a "talk over" function for the two mic channels. When this function is turned on, the level of all other channels is dipped when a signal is seen on the talk over channel. This is perfect for a moderator or voiceover applications.
Lights, Camera . . . Action!
Getting started with the TriCaster is simple. Connect your sources, line up some video clips and stills, set up a source for scan conversion, and away you go. There are two rows of buttons corresponding to your sources, the top row for whatever is live, and the bottom row for whatever you’re switching to next. You can switch by clicking the Auto button, the Take button, or by pulling on the virtual "T-bar." Auto switches use an effect and duration of your choosing. The T-bar allows you to control the duration of your effects. The Take button does a hard cut. You also can click directly on the source you want to switch to—the first click makes it the next source, the second click selects it. Similarly, the space bar is mapped to the Auto button.
Once you’ve done a few practice runs and are ready to go, simply click the Record Output button in the lower left to start recording. To stream your production, press the Stream Output button. The TriCaster provides you with a link address to distribute to your audience, or if you’re planning on a large-scale Webcast you can use this link to set up a pull encode to a Windows Media Server. The Record or Stream tab allows you to specify where to save the master and encoded versions of the broadcast, as well as a Windows Media profile to use when streaming.